By: Ariel Everitt
In the world of Octavia Butler’s short story “Bloodchild,” human males choose to become hosts/surrogate mothers for alien young in exchange for a home on the alien planet, although it means alien eggs are laid in their abdomens. The imagery of these parasitic pregnancies and births (surgical extraction of the alien larvae) is intentionally horrific, yet eerily similar to traditional pregnancies and birth. This led me to wonder if the parasitism/pseudo-pregnancy of “Bloodchild” is horrific through the corruption of a natural, innocent human process, or because pregnancy and birth are inherently horrifying to us — and if this horror might be merely amplified by the alien ways of the parasitism in “Bloodchild.”
The already rather gory images that accompany traditional birth are taken to a new extreme in “Bloodchild.” In the birth scene of Lomas’ parasitic alien young, the alien T’Gatoi, future parasite and loving companion of the narrator, “found the first grub. It was fat and deep red with his blood—both inside and out.” Particularly the redness of the skin of the grub calls to mind the bright red skin of babies just after birth, drawing on the corruption of an innocent feature with alien features to create horror. In this scene, T’Gatoi slices open Lomas to extract “the writhing grub carefully […] somehow ignoring the terrible groans of the man.” Here, T’Gatoi is reminiscent of a traditional human doctor who must work, despite a suffering mother, to ensure the safe birth of a human baby. The alien child, borne from the abdomen of Lomas, is described as “limbless and boneless at this stage, perhaps fifteen centimeters long and two thick, blind and slimy with blood,” similar to human babies soft with fat and slimy with the reddish fluids incorporated in birth. Additionally, the narrator’s reaction to this birth is not terribly different from some reactions to ordinary births: “I staggered out, barely made it. Beneath the tree just beyond the front door, I vomited until there was nothing left to bring up.” Stories of fathers panicking at the sight of the birth of their child are not uncommon, and some even include vomiting. Perhaps we otherwise repress the natural horrors of birth with the beauty of life, and only in visceral reactions can we truly express these feelings of horror.
The parent-child trust that exists in pregnancy may be corrupted by the danger presented to the human host by the alien children, but I argue that the traditional parent-child trust in pregnancy may be deceptive. In “Bloodchild,” the threat of the alien babies to their host is indicated so: “It had already eaten its own egg case, but apparently had not yet begun to eat its host. […] Let alone, it would have gone on excreting the poisons that had both sickened and alerted Lomas. Eventually it would have begun to eat. By the time it ate its way out of Lomas’s flesh, Lomas would be dead or dying […]”. Though the grubs present a very clear threat to their surrogate parent, it cannot be said that natural human pregnancy and childbirth present no risk to mothers. After all, the resources that support a mother’s body become the baby’s as well during pregnancy. Further, a human baby can cause potentially lethal injury to a mother during pregnancy and birth. There is often tragedy acknowledged in the death of a mother during childbirth, yet rarely acknowledged is there any sense of horror in this death. This is likely because we have evolved to see childbirth, and even the loss of a mother’s life during it, as a beautiful event due to its role in continuing our gene lines. But might we these deaths be horrifying to us from a different perspective?
Further, we see the creation of lives of our own species as something beautiful, but the creation of other lifeforms, if it involves our bodies, as extremely horrific: for instance, Butler was inspired to write “Bloodchild” by botflies, which lay eggs in human skin in order to birth new life. The key difference between parasitism of this sort and reproduction are that parasites are members of a different species, while our children are members of our own species and continuations of our gene lines. Thus, our feelings of horror about this parasitism have surely been shaped by our evolutionary history. Does this merit the tremendous difference in feelings we derive from these events of the birth of new life: either absolute horror or absolute happiness? And it is precisely this difference that “Bloodchild” navigates. The protagonist loves the alien to whose children he will become host/surrogate mother. Thus, “Bloodchild” is a horror story, but it is also a love story. It is a story of parasitism, but it is also a story of loving sacrifice for new life.
Butler, Octavia E. Bloodchild And Other Stories. Seven Stories Press, 1996.